It was the legendary investor Vinod Khosla that had said:
Failure doesn't matter. It's only success that matters.
And I am right there, at the point where I have to admit a failure and move ahead. In the period after March 2021, I and my partners at Sync started a closed Beta test of our app inviting users to try our CGM service which was intended to help them monitor their health and adapt their diet.
What we experienced in the few months that followed was two things:
Increased interest in our product, where many more people asked to join our program than we anticipated
Low retention of users, meaning very few continued to buy a second or third CGM device and keep up with the program, despite being very active in the first 14 days of their CGM device’s life.
Our great user acquisition rates came as a positive surprise to me since I didn't expect so many people would buy into this very early idea. On the other hand, the low retention was not exactly a surprise. I was aware of the key problems that made this offering hard for the average consumer to follow on for a significant amount of time - CGM devices were expensive, and you had to replace them on your arm every two weeks; not the optimal experience, especially for someone who is not suffering from diabetes and just wants to preserve their good health.
My plan to address this problem had to do with additional services we planned to offer as a next step, but mostly with the belief (in retrospect, hope) that we will see an acceleration in CGM technology improvements. I believed that the explosion in the space of technology-enabled preventive health (and especially CGM), would accelerate research and development of new products that are cheaper and more convenient.
But the biggest hope was the rumors that Apple will incorporate CGM functionality in the next version of the iPhone. This would be a game-changer in the market and would help more people get access to their glucose biometrics without the hassle and cost of traditional CGM devices. But in a negative turn of events, news leaked that Apple disbanded the team that was working on major health-related projects. A few months later I realized that the technological advances I anticipated would not materialize so fast, and someone would need a lot of patience to get to a mass market of CGM and personalized nutrition.
In other words, the timing for Sync was not right. There's no doubt that this is the future for people monitoring their health (especially a crucial biometric like glucose) but the technology is still not in place to support a mass consumer product. And showing patience until the technology is in place was not something I am good at.
Last August our whole team at Sync sat down to have a serious conversation and we all decided to kill the Sync idea and pursue something new. The lessons from this failed experiment were clear:
Never build a product that has a high dependency on technology that you don't own or build. Depending on third-party technology is always unavoidable, but when it has to do with crucial parts of your product, then it's a highly risky decision.
Get the timing right. A good idea and a great team are never enough. The idea has to have the right timing and market conditions have to be perfect to support this idea to take off the ground. This was not the case with Sync. I believe this will happen soon enough, maybe in 2 to 5 years max, but not something worth waiting for.
Kill your failed experiments fast, know when to quit. Many friends told me that I was bold enough to stop the Sync project after just 8 months of working on it. Maybe it was. I wish I had seen the signs even earlier. Getting your most minimum idea out there fast enough, getting early feedback, seeing the future, and quitting fast enough is always a skill I hold in high regard.
Don't get me wrong. I'm anything but a quitter. People say I'm too stubborn even for an entrepreneur. But combining stubbornness with making fast decisions when the signs are bad is a winning combination imho.
I said previously that I and my team decided to quit the Sync project and build something new. Pivoting to a new idea is anything but new in the startup world (from Twitter to Slack and Instagram, the examples are countless).
So here we are, ready to launch a new idea that excites us and truly believe that it ticks all the boxes (this time): timing, a real problem to be solved, a very (very) big market, and big potential for growth. I will follow up with a new post about this.
PS: From Wikipedia: A flyway is a flight path used by large numbers of birds while migrating between their breeding grounds and their overwintering quarters.